In the early weeks of the pandemic a stray kitten appeared at Richard Reynolds’ door in Scarborough and asked to come in. The fuzzy visitor never left.

Reynolds’ business has been shuttered due to COVID-19, and this cuddly new pet has been one of the few positive things that’s happened to him in months. To recognize that fact, Reynolds and his girlfriend named their quarantine kitty Covi. They’ve also added the No. 19 to his identity by declaring his birthday Sept. 19. The name and date leave no doubt about what the cat was named for.

“It’s been so good for us to have him; he’s made us feel not so alone in this,” said Reynolds, 29, owner of GTFO Escape Room in South Portland. “We’ll always remember he came to us in this time, he brought us something positive.”

Richard Reynolds holds Covi, a cat whose name was inspired by the pandemic. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The pandemic will be over someday, we hope. But there may be lasting reminders in the names people are now choosing for their pets, license plates and even babies. Some are meant to commemorate a happy moment in a dark time, like Covi the cat or Kora, shortened from Korona, for a curly-haired therapy dog adopted by the Frost family in Kennebunk. Some people are choosing to put a name to their frustrations, as evidenced by the Maine vanity plate that reads FKCOVID.

Surveys of expectant parents have shown that the pandemic may push some to consider baby names that convey hope, strength or some virtue, like Joy, Hope or Patience. There’s been at least one Serenity born in Maine since the pandemic began, according to published birth announcements.

There’s also some evidence from recent history that certain names might fall out of favor in the near future, names that sound like corona or virus, such as Corina or Vera. Katrina had been among the top 100 to 200 names for baby girls in America annually for three decades, but a few years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, the name was not even among the top 1,000 listed by the Social Security Administration each year.

“People pick a baby name thinking about the impression that name will make on others. We know how important first impressions are and we want others to have a positive impression of our child,” said Michelle Napierski-Prancl, a professor of sociology at Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. “So parents might be thinking, ‘Do I want my child’s name associated with the coronavirus?’ It’s very different than considering a vanity plate.”

At least a dozen vanity plates that seem to be pandemic-inspired have been registered with the state since mid-March, according to a list of new vanity plates released to the Press Herald by the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles. These include COVD19, COVID, COVID19, COVID69, MASCAH, VIRUS, FKCOVID and FKCHNA. The latter appears to be a reference to China, where the pandemic was first identified. The state would not release the names of the plate owners, so none could be contacted to explain their mobile messages.

Karl Frost, 14, and his dog Kora. Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

BABY NAME BOOM?

There is evidence that popular culture can have an impact on baby naming trends, Napierski-Prancl said. The girls’ name Madison did not crack the Social Security Administration’s top 1,000 baby names before 1985, a year after Daryl Hannah played a mermaid named Madison in the film “Splash.” Ten years later, it was the 51st most popular girl’s name, and by 2000, it was perennially in the top 5.

The girl’s name Ariel first made the top 1,000 list in 1978, after the song “Ariel” by Dean Friedman was a radio hit. By 1991, the name had jumped to 66, two years after another Ariel enchanted audiences in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

In April, a couple in India made international news by naming newborn twins Corona and Covid. The couple, Vinay and Preetie Verma, told the media they wanted “memorable” names to remind them of the hardship, and ultimate joy, of welcoming their children during a worldwide pandemic. But their case seems to be unique.

A British parenting website called ChannelMum surveyed 2,000 parents in the United Kingdom in late May and found that more than 40 percent thought the pandemic would influence future baby names in some way. More than half thought names that sound like corona – Corah and Corina, for example – might fall out of favor, and a third thought names that sound like virus, including Violet or Viola, would do so as well. About 70 percent predicted that “virtue” names would become more popular, including Faith, Hope, Patience and Constance.

Although there’s been public speculation that there will a lot more babies to name nine months from the shutdown, health officials and experts on birth rates don’t expect a baby boom to come out of this pandemic. History shows that baby booms don’t usually happen during a crisis (our country’s largest was after World War II had ended). Plus, according to a study published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant woman may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The Frost family got Kora – a double doodle – in May and considered naming her Korona because she’s something positive to come out of the pandemic. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

ONE NAME STANDS OUT

As with any crisis, some people have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic as leaders and inspirations for others. Some perhaps are worthy of naming a baby after.

Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections has named the Shah Bar in honor of the state’s CDC director.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has become the local face of the pandemic for many, with his poise and clarity during regular news briefings on new cases and deaths. A Facebook page called Fans of Dr. Nirav Shah has 32,000 members. Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections has named the Shah Bar in his honor and Provender Kitchen + Bar in Ellsworth has christened a cocktail called “Paging Dr. Shamegranate.” Could a Maine baby named Nirav be next?

“Hearing the name Nirav regarding a child or pet in years to come would be a reminder of the good there was despite the fear and frustration,” said Stephanie Strong, who is retired from the tourism industry and living in Portland, and a Shah fan.

When asked for his thoughts on pandemic-related naming – and specifically having a candy bar bear his name – Shah responded with an email that read, in part: “We need ways to find joy in bad times, and efforts to commemorate things are a way we do that.”

PANDEMIC PET NAMES

Kora the double doodle – half Labradoodle and half Goldendoodle – came to the Frost family in Kennebunk at a crucial time. It was May, two months into the pandemic.

Brothers Karl, Donald and Kyle are on the autism spectrum and all have had dogs for emotional support, but 14-year-old Karl’s dog had died, and he and the family really needed another furry face in the house.

“With online learning and everything happening, things were getting stressful and hard for them,” said Karleen Johnson Frost of her sons. “Then we got her, and she really brought something positive. She’s an amazing support dog.”

Kora also spends time lending support at the family business, Karleen’s Ideas in Kennebunkport, which makes weighted blankets and sensory items for people with special needs.

The family wanted to name the double doodle something to remind them of the joy she brought them during the pandemic. They first considered Korona – corona but with a K, because the Frosts have a lot of K names in the family. But they floated the idea to friends and on social media and found some thought it might be disrespectful, especially to people who have lost loved ones.

Richard Reynolds holds Covi, sitting with his girlfriend Sosanya Pok, left, and their friend Gwen Stevens. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

So they picked Kora, which probably won’t remind anyone of the pandemic, except the Frosts.

While the Frosts sought out their pandemic pet, Reynolds did not. It was April and Reynolds was home after being forced to close his business. His girlfriend, Sosanya Pok, was working from home.

The striped gray and brown male kitten, about 6 months old, showed up at the couple’s door one day and meowed to come in. He made himself at home and slept in their bed that night. Reynolds thought maybe the kitten’s owner couldn’t care for it anymore, because of the pandemic. He called Scarborough police, who scanned the cat for a tracking chip, but there was none. He posted pictures of the cat on Facebook, but no one claimed him.

So after a while, Reynolds and Pok decided he was now their quarantine kitty, a furry friend that had come to keep them company amid the isolation and stress of the COVID-19 crisis. So they decided to name him Covi. Cute enough, they figure, to not push the memory of the virus in people’s faces but close enough to let people know when he entered their lives.

“We thought it sounded like an adorable name anyway, and people seem to get a chuckle out of it,” said Reynolds. “Getting him during this time is just something we’ll always remember.”

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